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RICHMOND
Grace Street Commercial Historic District

historic Grace Street

Berry Burk & Company
Virginia Commonwealth University Libraries

 

Grace Street Commercial Historic District is significant for both its architecture and commerce. From 1820 to 1920, Grace and Franklin Streets were the heart of one of Richmond’s most fashionable neighborhoods and home to some of its wealthiest and most influential citizens. The streets were lined with large homes and row houses set in narrow lots often enclosed by fences constructed of wood or ornamental iron.

Later, commercial development replaced many of the residences. Churches began to appear on Grace and Franklin Streets in the 1840s. People widely believe that Grace Street had its name changed because of the number of churches present by 1844. Prior to that time, it was known simply as “G” Street, following the early lettering system of city streets. Two churches, St. Peter’s Catholic Church and Centenary United Methodist Church, were on the street, and two others were under construction: St. Paul’s Episcopal Church and Grace Street Baptist Church. Centenary United Methodist at 411 East Grace Street is one of downtown Richmond’s familiar landmarks and among the best examples of the Gothic Revival style in the city. By the end of the 19th century, three more churches on Grace Street added to the architectural character of the street.

Over the 50-year period following the Civil War, Grace and Franklin Streets became more urbanized with the demolition of many antebellum residences and subdivision of their generous lots. The district saw the construction of houses in the latest architectural styles-Italianate, Second Empire, and Richardsonian Romanesque. In the second two decades of the 20th century, Grace Street became a fashionable shopping and business district. Prior to 1911, a few residential buildings were converted to commercial uses, but that year saw construction of the first new commercial building, the Thalheimer’s Office Building. More new commercial development followed beginning in the Roaring Twenties. Dubbed “Richmond’s Fifth Avenue”, Grace Street became the site of more than 70 new retail shops and office buildings between 1920 and 1930, many in an Art Deco-influenced style. The stock market crash of 1929 ended this unprecedented building boom, however. Over the next ten years only a handful of buildings were erected, as the Great Depression marked an end to the exuberant, fanciful storefronts built along Grace Street in the preceding decade.

Berry Burk building detail

Detail on Berry-Burke Building
City of Richmond Department of Community Development

Notable buildings in the district include the Administration and Equipment Building for the Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone Company at 701 East Grace Street. The well-known New York firm of Voorhees, Gmelin and Walker designed this 11-story Art Deco skyscraper that dates from 1929. One block to the west at 600 East Grace Street stands the 1927 Loew’s Theater, the design of John Eberson, a leading New York architect of the 1920s noted for his extravagant theater designs. The theater, sometimes called the Carpenter Center for its most recent incarnation, is an elaborate interpretation of the Spanish Mission style, with a dark red brick exterior heavily ornamented with sculpted terra cotta and limestone. The now demolished Thalheimer’s Department Store once occupied the remainder of the block. Across the street to the west stands Miller & Rhodes Department Store (508-512 East Grace Street), with the original portion of the store fronting Broad Street. Starrett & Van Vleck, well known for their designs of posh New York department stores like Lord & Taylor and Bloomingdale’s, are responsible for the 1922 Grace Street addition. The building is now a hotel and condominiums. Across Grace Street from Miller & Rhodes is the 1928 Berry-Burke Building (525-529 East Grace Street), another large commercial building. The Richmond firm of Baskervill & Lambert designed the limestone building in the form of an Italian palazzo with polychromatic detailing. Recently renovated and converted to apartments on the upper stories, the building still has its original illuminated sign on the roof.

Further west of Miller & Rhodes and the Berry-Burke Building, both sides of Grace Street are lined with smaller commercial buildings and a scattering of older residential buildings, including a row of five Queen Anne-style buildings on the 200 block of East Grace Street. Built between 1881 and 1892, they have storefront additions dating from the mid-1920s, but the second and third floors retain much of their original character. They are the Wallerstein House (211 East Grace Street); George D. Wise House (213 East Grace Street); Samuel Cohen House (215 East Grace Street); T.E. Gill House (217 East Grace Street); and the S.D. Crenshaw House (219 East Grace Street). Capt. Marion Johnson Dimmock, one of Richmond’s most prolific architects of the post-Civil War period, designed the 1881 George D. Wise House. East Grace Street is currently undergoing a dramatic renaissance, including the rehabilitation of the Loew’s Theater for use as a Performing Arts Center and the adaptive reuse of the Miller and Rhodes building for a hotel and condominiums.

Plan your visit
Grace Street Commercial Historic District is roughly bounded by Adams, Broad, 8th, and Franklin Sts. Many of the buildings with varied commercial, retail, restaurant, and religious uses are open to the public.
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